The times I had run down the path leading to castle beach were too many to recall, armed with bucket and spade, fishing net and anything else my arms would allow me to carry.
Remembering the excitement I felt as I approached the sand, taking in the smells that come with the sea, what shall I do first, build a sandcastle, explore the rock pools, fly my kite or paddle in the sea, Never for a moment did I think of sitting in the sun and relaxing like my parents would suggest.
This year seemed different, I approached the beach, passing the cafes along the bush-lined path with a friend, dressed in wet suits and tightly clutching our brand new surfboards. We knew exactly what the plan was, the tide was incoming the waves were breaking around the rocks and straight for the sea we headed, not noticing the hustle and bustle on the beach as we weaved in and out of half built sandcastles, stepping carefully around families and picnics.
The sun was high in the August afternoon sky and a pleasant sea breeze allowed the fluffy clouds to pass overhead, without obliterating the heat of the sun. A perfect summer’s afternoon was my thoughts.
As we were nearing the shoreline, as if a strange force was urging me to look, there she stood; Saint Catherine’s a mass of rock rising majestically out of the sea. Although she had been there every year I had never felt this sense of luring me towards her before. Yes, in the past I had noticed her exploring her caves and rock pools, when the tide had gone out. I had even cut my feet to ribbons on her razor sharp rocks and barnacles, and had taken a boat trip out to sea so as to see her from the other side, but I now had this longing to climb her jagged rocks and investigate the old fort, which stood proudly on top.
St Catherine’s the island had been deemed dangerous with a banner warning members of the public to stay off. I had even witnessed a helicopter rescue off her in previous years, but nevertheless I knew before this holiday was over, I would have to make the climb to the fort. The sea could not have been more ideal for surfing, the incoming tide bought with it perfect waves, white foam lashed over me as the breakers forced their way to shore.
The fluffy white clouds turned to pale grey casting shadows over St Catherine’s rocks as the breeze got up. This along with the seagulls circling overhead awaited the return of the fishing boats in anticipation of a tit bit added to the call of St Catherine’s.
When returning up Castle beach with Phil I turned to take another long look at her daunting rocks, waves now lashing against her base, spraying her with white foam, I had to tell him about my yearn to climb to the top. He didn’t need much persuasion before agreeing to accompany me on our adventure.
Turning again to walk up the beach, a cold shiver came over me, and I knew this was not because I was cold as the afternoon sun was still blazing down on castle beach.
This was the first day of this year’s holiday and the beach was now heaving with half naked children covered in sun block cream and a distinct smell of Ambre Solaire filled the air, parents glad to relax in the sun after their morning’s journey to Tenby.
Phil and Myself stopped at one of the caf’s to pick up a can of pop and something to eat, as the sea air had given us both an appetite.
We both agreed it was still too early in the day to return to our accommodation and as the weather forecast was less favourable for the rest of the week, we should make the most of the good weather. It seemed as if Phil and I were the only one’s heading away from the beach, as a mass exodus of families armed with buckets and spades bustled past us in the opposite direction.
At the top of the bush lined path we felt compelled to turn right, and take the long route back to the cabin, this route along the headland path gave us chance to sit on the grassy bank by the bandstand to eat our sandwiches and have a drink, we positioned our surf boards on the bank, rolled down our wetsuits to our waist hoping to catch the sun.
The view of Saint Catherine’s from this elevated position was even more thrilling. Year after year I had sat here with my family, wondering what lay behind the heavy doors, would it still have the splendour of a stately home, were there dungeons weaving their way through tunnels deep in the rocks, we always imagined there to be secret passages behind book cases rather like a setting out of an Agatha Christie novel.
Phil spoke, bringing me back into the real world. “Have you noticed the doors are open?”
I hadn’t noticed, but I knew for certain that in previous years they had been securely fastened.
We both lay on our surfboards stomach down, allowing the sun to beat down on our backs, our chins resting in our cupped hands. We had the perfect view to plan our precarious climb. It was now an ebbing tide, this had revealed more caves and
caverns, prominent rocks and stone steps, from where we lay a clear route could be planned.
The arched double doors were of solid oak and cast iron, the hinges of steel, rusting with the years of sea spray and the elements beating against them, yet still intact, the whole thing was daunting even looking through binoculars from the band stand did not prepare me for the huge size of the doors, a double decker bus could have quite easily driven through them.
After all these years I was there, stood as if in miniature tugging at the doors, although the hinges creaked and moaned the doors opened surprisingly smoothly, as if a force from behind was pushing them towards me, making it easy for me to enter, I sensed that Saint Catherine’s had been waiting for me to arrive.
As I took my first few tentative steps and peered round the door expecting to see dereliction and decay. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, the long hall way which cuts through the heart of the fort, was adorned with hunting trophy’s, bear skin rugs covered the beautifully polished wooden floors, crystal chandeliers reflected the light that came through the open door. Medieval suits of armour stood to attention either side of the doorway. Stranger still was the fire that burned in the hearth at the end of the hallway, how could this be? Who had lit it?
As I made my way down the hall to the fireplace a large portrait came into view. The fire crackled and spat sparks which stopped me in my tracks. The smell of charred wood filled the air.
As I advanced towards the portrait to take a closer look, I noticed a brass plaque. I wiped away the dust to reveal the name Theobold Green. Strange this should share the surname of my best mate Phil. As I stared at this Victorian clad gent I heard a voice as if the portrait was calling me. I realised that the voice was Phil’s and it appeared to be coming from behind the fireplace. I yelled at the top of my voice “where are you? Is that you? How did you get there?” Phil’s distance voice told me to go through the door left of the fireplace. I slowly turned the handle and entered, this brought me into a narrow corridor with many passageways either side.
Phil called out again, his voice sounding louder, I replied “Phil where are you?”
As I crept along the dimly lit corridor my eye was taken by a small silver disk. I picked up what appeared to be a dusty 10p coin, and put it in my pocket, I continued my search for Phil who’s voice was Continually getting louder, and he seemed anxious that I locate him quickly. Suddenly my heart thumped like a drum in my chest, as I felt a clammy hand on my shoulder. I let out a scream sweat running down the nape of my neck, as Phil’s voice bellowed “Rich, Rich wake up, are you Coming to get an ice-cream, you took some waking up where have you been?”
“I was in Saint Catherine’s, well I thought I was anyway”.
Phil said “got any money” I reached into my wet suite pocket and handed him my loose change.
” Well you might as well have this one back, this is no good it’s a Victorian florin. What are you doing with one of these?” Without hesitation I replied ” I picked it up in Saint Catherine’s” “But Rich we haven’t even planned our route yet, let alone been in there”.